The Spanish government hopes to conclude the European Pact on Migration and Asylum during its upcoming Presidency of the Council despite launching elections just weeks into it. A year after the Melilla tragedy, victims and families are still waiting for a thorough investigation by Spanish and Moroccan authorities. Meanwhile, the lack of coordination between the two neighbouring countries on search and rescue continue to generate deadly delays.
Spain, entering the Presidency of the Council of the European Union expects to conclude the European Pact on Migration and Asylum. “I hope that before the end of the semester we can definitely seal this pact on migration and asylum that is so important for the member states,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez stated at a recent news conference held in Madrid. A broad agreement on the pact was reached on 8 June despite opposition from Poland and Hungary and the Council will negotiate with the Parliament. However, the Spanish Presidency entering on 1 July could be off to a challenging start, as the PM has called for Spanish Parliament elections on 23 July just weeks in. “With the impending political leadership vacuum in Spain and hence at the helm of the Council, many negotiations on these sensitive political issues are now in danger to fail out of sheer lack of time,” said Johannes Greubel, a senior analyst at the European Policy Centre.
A year after the Melilla tragedy “There has been no credible investigation or justice for the victims of the horrific violence and deaths of asylum seekers and migrants at the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave”, stated Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 22 June. “Both Spain and Morocco have exonerated their security forces following flawed or insufficient investigations into the violence at the Melilla enclave border,” said Alice Autin, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, adding “And what happened to dozens of the people who attempted to cross on that day is still unknown”. “One year on from the carnage at Melilla, Spanish and Moroccan authorities not only continue to deny any responsibility but are preventing attempts to find the truth. Bodies are still lying in a morgue and in graves and efforts to identify the dead and inform their relatives have been blocked,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, continuing “Barriers to truth and justice are also a reflection of the continuing harmful treatment based on race and migration status. Yet as hopes of finding the missing 76 alive recede, the demand on the authorities to provide truth and ensure justice for the victims and their families is growing ever louder”. Protestors wearing white masks and carrying signs reading “massacre” and “Europe responsible” marked the day in Madrid. “It was a day of pain and rage,” demonstrator Luisa Menendez, 73, told Reuters, referring to the day of the tragedy in 2022. “A horrible day in the history of humanity”. While UN experts estimate that at least 37 people died, the non-governmental Moroccan Association for Human Rights in Nador (Association Marocaine des Droits Humains, AMDH Nador) says 77 people are still missing. The Spanish outlets Público and Fundación porCausa have collected the testimonies of five civil guards, speaking out – despite the gag order imposed by the Ministry of Interior – about their experiences at the fence of Melilla on the day of the tragedy, June 24, 2022. According to one of the guard’s despite being trained to obey orders it was impossible not to feel bad: “You see them and they are my age more or less, guys with whom I could be playing football” (translated), he stated. “At first, the Moroccans killed them or half–killed them right there. Uniforms full of blood, everything full of blood, the worst thing I’ve ever lived” (translation), another guard said. The testimonies points to unclear procedures and guards at the border left to implement political decisions they are not responsible for and cooperates the occurrence of hot returns (pushbacks) and the death of at least one person on Spanish soil. One underlines that the people attempting to cross the fence were looking for passage not confrontation.
Meanwhile, the lack of rescue coordination between the Spanish and Moroccan authorities reportedly continues to contribute to deaths on the Atlantic route. According to InfoMigrants, a shipwreck on 21 June sheds “light on how much dysfunction there is between Moroccan and Spanish authorities when it comes to saving lives at sea”. Just 24 people were rescued after the shipwreck off the coast of the Canary Islands. While reported numbers vary, at least 37 people died including “two children, a baby and several underage teenagers” according to local media and NGO, Caminando Fronteras puts the number at 39. The organisation further reported that the tragedy happened in the Spanish SAR zone but that Spanish authorities delegated the rescue to the Moroccans after being alerted to the distress, delaying the rescue. “Having 60 people – among them six women and a baby – waiting for rescue for more than 12 hours on an unstable inflatable boat that could sink at any moment is torture,” said head of the organisation, Helena Maleno, also noting that both governments were “playing with people’s lives” by passing the blame from one side to the next. Khadija Ainani, vice-president of AMDH stated that the lack of immediate action sent “a clear message: we won’t make a big rescue effort, even if the price to pay is the lives of these people”. The NGO Alarm Phone asked: “At least 35 people are still missing. Why did nobody intervene earlier?”. The Spanish Ombudsman has been asked to investigate the incident but Spanish authorities seems to already have concluded that all proper procedures were followed in “compliance with international search and rescue procedures”. A Spanish rescue service ship was reportedly situated merely 60 kilometers away from the dinghy, but had been ordered to return to port after rescuing 63 people in a separate incident. However, a Transport Ministry source told media “At no time did the Moroccan authorities ask Spain’s rescue service for assistance or mobilization of resources, except in the final moments when the mobilization of a helicopter was requested. The resources are always at the disposal of any emergency and this was no exception”.
Between 1 January and May 31 in 2023, 4,406 people arrived in the Canary Islands via the Atlantic route, compared with 8,268 in the same period in 2022. However, despite the drop in activity on the Atlantic route, distress alerts and rescues continue on that as well as other sea routes to Spain. A day after the deadly shipwreck on 21 June at least 227 migrants were rescued off the Canary Islands. On 26 June, Héroes del Mar reported the rescue of 15 people who had left Nador three days prior by Servicio Marítimo de la Guardia Civil de Cadiz. On the same day, Salvamento Marítimo reportedly rescued 25 people who later disembarked in the port of Malaga. On 27 June, Alarm Phone reported: “55 people missing on the way from Guelmin to the Canarias! Relatives are worried as they haven’t heard from them since their departure 5 days ago. Salvamento Maritimo is alerted. We hope the people will soon be found and rescued!”. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a total of 1,500 people have lost their lives on this route across the Atlantic Ocean since 2021. Caminando Fronteras believes the number to be much higher, claiming there were 1,784 deaths in 2022 alone.
For further information:
- ECRE, Atlantic Route and Spain: PM Hails Morocco as Essential Partner Amid Critique of Too Many Concessions, Significant Decrease of Arrivals to Canary Islands – Deaths and Distress at Sea Continue, May 2023
- ECRE, Atlantic Route and Spain: More Tragedies Despite Rescue Efforts, Cargo Ships Taking Survivors to Disputed Territory in Western Sahara, March 2023